Are NBA teams shooting too many threes? The three-point shot was instituted in 1979-80 and, since then, its use has been going almost straight upwards. To get a concrete sense of how this trend has played out, here is a chart of the average three-pointers made and attempted by the average team per game since 1979-80:
While the three-point shot did slowly go from novelty to occasional weapon, the first real jump in taking the shot came in 1994-95, when the NBA moved in the line slightly. This shorter line remained for three seasons (ending after 1996-97). Moving the line back in 1997-98 did lower the three-point volume but not to the pre-1993-94 levels and it the threes starting creeping up again anyway. This upward trend seemed to plateau at about 18 attempts per game until 2012-13, when they jumped to the 20s and the numbers have only gone up since then (the same year Steph Curry began shooting a ton of them). Now, in 2016-17, we are at a record rate of shooting threes with no end in sight.
In fact, three of the five most three-point attempts in a season came in 2015-16. Curry absolutely shattered the record for threes attempted (886) last year, which broke the previous record by George McCloud in 1995-96 (678). On top of that, James Harden (657), Klay Thompson (650), and Damian Lillard (610), also broke the 600 mark last season. Moreover, 14 of the top 100 three-point attempts were from last season.
So, NBA players will continue to let their stars shoot the three anytime they are open because the attempts are being made efficiently. This is not a bad thing. The ability to shoot has led to a fairly fun and well-spaced game. There will come a point when too many threes can become a liability. If too many shots are taken from three, the game will become a chucking contest but we are not close to that point yet. There are still plenty of other shots being taken and, if you take away Curry, the numbers aren’t quite as crazy as they appear. Still, this is a point the NBA will be watching closely.
Finally, as a postscript, here is a list of some fun random facts on three-point pioneers:
-It took until 1987-88 for an NBA player to attempt over 300 three-pointers in a season, when Michael Adams (379) and Dany Ainge (357) finally broke through.
-In 1988-89, Adams broke his own record by shooting 466 attempts (only two others took over 300).
-We can all dream about how Larry Bird would’ve been a ridiculous stretch four in today’s NBA. He didn’t actually shoot a ton of threes in his day. He led the NBA in attempts in 1985-86 with 194 but only maxed out at 237 attempts in a season (he never attempted more than 3.3 threes per game in a season). No doubt he would’ve had more of a green light if he played today.
-It took until 1990-91, but Adams (while playing on the crazy Paul Westhead Nuggets), broke the 500 mark, with 564. That same season, Vernon Maxwell also shot 510. Unlike Curry, Adams was unable to keep his efficiency with this jump in attempts. He fell from .366% from three in 1989-90 to a terrible .296% in 1990-91 (2.5 for 8.5 from three per game). Mad Max was also inefficient. He never shot better than .342% in a full season.
-When the line was moved in from 1994 to 1997, the NBA finally broke the 600-mark. First, John Starks hit 611 in 1994-95. In 1995-96, McCloud set the record with 678 followed by Dennis Scott (628) and Mookie Blaylock (623). In 1996-97, the last year of the closer line, only Blaylock took over 600 attempts (604).
-In the early 2000s, the 600-attempt mark was reached a few more times: Antoine Walker in 2000-01 and 2001-02 (603 and 645 respectively). Then, Quentin Richardson in 2004-05 (631) and Ray Allen in 2005-06 (653) also hit that mark.
-The 600-attempt mark then remained out of reach until Curry in 2012-13 and he has reached it every year since. In fact, here are Curry’s yearly attempts from 2012-13 to 2015-16: 600, 615, 646, 886(!).
-As mentioned above, Harden, Thompson, and Lillard also attempted over 600 last year. This season, Curry is on pace to take over 800 threes (though not quite 886). Seven other players project to take around 600 threes.